Visiting “Slam” stars, student standouts light up the Bergan Poetry Festival

The Paul K. Bergan Poetry Festival was double the fun last weekend as it featured two visiting poets, one double winner, and a two-time champion.

To kick off the annual celebration of the genre, visiting poet Clint Smith arrived Friday with a surprise guest -- fellow poet and Slam master George Yamazawa. The two young men, ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, among the nation’s Poetry Slam competitors, awed the enthusiastic audience with the power and presence of their words in a “reading” that was half performance, half workshop, and all inspiring.
Newcomer Andeulazia '14 was the double winner, taking titles in both the Poetry Slam and the competitive readings for the junior class, and Lilly P. '15 was the repeat champ, winning her class’s competitive reading for the second straight year. Lilly also tied junior Jennifer W. '14 for second in the Slam, and Olivia S. '13 and Shea '16 also took laurels -- literally (see photo) -- in the competitive readings.

Smith, a 24-year-old high school teacher, and Yamazawa, 22, demonstrated a range of works during their performance, and shared insights about writing, performing, and their personal paths to becoming passionate about poetry. The students were enthralled and enjoyed showing their appreciation, as instructed, by snapping fingers and sharing approving shoutouts during the recitations.

Following their session and a musical open mic interlude emceed by English/History teacher Steve McCarty, Smith and Yamazawa joined with six students to judge the much-beloved annual poetry slam. Seven brave students took turns baring their souls and/or amusing the audience with lively presentations of original poetry in quest of glory . . . and cash prizes. After a strong first-round piece called “Colored Girls,” Andeulazia clinched the title, and $100, by scoring an astounding 9.7 (out of 10) for “She Doesn’t Remember,” about her grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's. 

Jennifer paired a somber piece about natural disaster and human tragedy called “Sandy’s Box” with the sassy “Confidence” while Lilly offered a terrific turn on Los Angeles called “Big City” and the bittersweet “I Remember.”

The formal competitive readings, judged by Dr. Huntington Lyman of the Hill School Saturday morning, were outstanding. Olivia took hold of the entire auditorium as well as the English 401 title with her mesmerizing reading of “To Roosevelt,” Ruben Dario’s 1904 poem about U.S. involvement in “Spanish America.” Andeulazia sent chills through the room with her dramatic portrayal of the murderous abuser in “She Says She Loves Me,” by Lamont Carey to earn the English 301 title. Lilly's lovely rendition of “Angels” by Katha Pollitt and Shea’s courageous reading of a very personal piece, written by her mother, called “I’ll Ride Away,” took the English 201 and 101 titles, respectively.

A tradition that dates back to Foxcroft’s earliest days, the competitive readings feature three finalists in each grade level who have been chosen by their peers and certified by faculty judges in two previous rounds of competition. Each reads a poem of her choice and the best one, based on poem selection and delivery, is awarded a book, a rose, and -- yes -- a crown of laurels. The finalists Saturday were all very good.

Open readings rounded out the weekend Saturday. In a session reflecting the diversity of the Foxcroft community, 21 students and teachers read poetry in languages other than English, ranging from Dutch and Italian to Japanese and Mandarin. A special treat was three French students and their teacher, Arnaud Boulestreau, performing "J'ai fait un reve" -- which turned out to be Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech in translation! Faculty shared original poems and favorite published works to conclude an outstanding weekend of rhyme, rhythm, and readings.

Many thanks to the entire English Department -- Kathleen Boswell (chair), Stewart Herbert, Steve McCarty, Lisa Boulestreau, and Steve Matthews, for organizing a wonderful event.
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An all-girls boarding and day school in Northern Virginia, Foxcroft prepares young women in grades 9-12 for success in college and in life. Our outstanding academic program offers challenging courses, including Advanced Placement classes and an innovative STEM program. Our premiere equestrian program is nationally recognized, and our athletic teams have won conference and state championships. Experience the best in girls' boarding schools: visit Foxcroft.